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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Phila-Trivia - A Brief History of the Early Chinese Postal System

China was one of the first countries to have a postal service system – starting early in the Zhou dynasty (1111-255 BC).

In the beginning the postal service was used for official documents only, primarily military in nature. A system of daks, or stations, was developed to aid in transferring the messages.  All messages were transferred by couriers, who would travel from dak to dak. Upon arrival at a dak, the first courier would hand off the message to a new courier who would begin the next leg of the journey, and so on.

In the Qin dynasty (221 – 206 BC), small kingdoms were brought under unification and a nation-wide postal system was developed. Though the period of peace and unification did not last long, the postal system components remained in use regionally and could be easily be brought back together during a new
Fish-shaped Envelopes, Qin Dynasty

In the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), the postal system reached the Roman Empire via the silk road, demonstrating its vast network. The postal system continued to expand and develop, with couriers traveling by land and water to reach their destinations.

Express tallies, Sung Dynasty
During the prosperous Tang dynasty (618-907), the postal system was flourishing along with country itself.  There were more than 1600 daks at this time. Couriers had set schedules and efficiency increased. Under the Sung dynasty (960 – 1270), ‘express’ mail was created, primarily in response to the frequent wars and invaders on the north and west borders. Mail was ranked using three categories called tallies:  gold, silver, and copper depending on the urgency. Mail with a gold tally should be sent at 250 km per day, silver at 200 km per day, and copper at 150 km per day.

By the time the Yuan dynasty rolled around in the late 13th century, the mail system was so vast that Marco Polo was compelled to comment on its scale and efficiency.

During the majority of the postal system’s history, the mail was used for official government communication and military use. It wasn’t until the 15th century that private post offices appeared, and traders began to use the private post as a way to communicate and make payments.

In the late 1800s, the system began to be influenced by those in Western countries. The government issued
its first stamps in 1876, the Imperial Dragon set. By the time of the 1911 revolution, the Chinese government closed all daks to make way for more modern and efficient means, and had brought the majority of the private post companies under control of the government.

(from an article by Meg Doherty) 

Information concerning printing quantities of stamps is often useful in determining which may turn out to be
good investments. The StampSelector Scarce Stamp Quantities Issued List (SSSSQIL) currently includes over 9,700 listings of stamps and souvenir sheets with issuance quantities of 100,000 or less.

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